Friday, November 04, 2011

A close call

Judge Holder: Not even slightly amused.
I'm breathing easier right now than I was this morning. 
A few weeks ago I received a very official looking envelope. Inside was an "ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE" which read 
"YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO APPEAR before this Court to give any legal reason why this Court should not find you guilty of a violation of Florida Statute 40.23 and/or guilty of indirect criminal contempt for attempting to impair, hinder or obstruct the court in the administration of justice, or to lessen its authority or its dignity..."
Huh? Who, me?
It went on to say:
"...and as grounds therefore does allege the following:
  1. Defendant (I'm a Defendant? I have to Defend myself?!?) was lawfully summoned to report for jury duty on Monday, October 3, 2011.
  2. Defendant failed to appear for jury duty as required on Monday, October 3, 2011.
It is therefore ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that CLARK BROOKS (Ohmygod, I'm a  Defendant!!) is to APPEAR before Judge Gregory P. Holder on November 4, be arraigned and then and there to show cause why he/she should not be held in and punished for violation of Florida Statute 40.23 and/or indirect contempt of Court."
Here's the thing: I never received the original summons. Why I received this one and not the original is a question I can't answer. I live in a large apartment complex and our mail getting mixed up is not an uncommon occurrence. For all I know, it's sitting there right now in some vacant apartment's mail slot. I have two envelopes for paychecks covered with all kinds of postal stickers and hand-stamps that didn't find their way to me in a timely fashion that I brought with me as evidence. As flimsy as that is, it's all I really had. That, and my personal integrity, for what that's worth. The fact of the matter is, I'm the son of a policeman who instilled in me at a very early age the importance of the criminal justice system in our society. I'm a veteran of the military. I've voted in every election I've been eligible for since I was able to vote. And I've responded to every jury summons I've ever received. The one time I was actually selected, I served as Foreman in a criminal trial that last two days. I actually kind of enjoy participating in the process and consider it a privilege to do so. In fact my first reaction upon opening the envelope (well, second reaction, after freaking the freak out) was disappointment over missing the opportunity to serve. Seriously. Maybe that makes me a weirdo but so be it. 
I also know that being excused from jury duty is one of the easiest things to do and there are all kinds of legitimate ways to go about that. I've never done it but I know it doesn't take much. My point being that, all kidding aside, I take my civic responsibilities very seriously and I do my best to be a good citizen. And at the very, very least, I'm smart enough to not try to avoid something like this by simply blowing it off. Need further proof? Hell, just hunt around this very blog a little and you should have no trouble finding instances where I've happily documented worse/dumber things that I've done.

I was prepared to share all of that (minus the blog plug, maybe) with the Court this morning when I found myself in the company of hundreds of people who were there for the same reason. Apparently, close to 400 people didn't show up on October 3rd and most of them, including me, hadn't been properly excused. So there were 246 of us sitting in the courtroom at 8:30 this morning. I don't know if everybody had as much anxiety around it as I did, but I came in after several days of dread and anxiety and one completely sleepless night. As we sat there waiting for Judge Holder to enter, I picked up bits and pieces of conversation floating around me, none of which made me feel any better...
"...$100 fine..."
"...six months in jail..."
"...take you into custody, right on the spot..."
"...why yes, they are real..." Wait a minute, who said that?

Judge Holder entered, we did the Pledge of Allegiance and then he called up a guy on the list. Someone (not the guy, according to the guy) had called in on his behalf and said he should be excused because he's in the military...except he's not. Judge Holder ripped the guy up one side and down the other, detailing his own military service, that of his wife, his son and several other members of the Court. When he was done, he told what was left of the guy to sit down.
Me (silently, to myself): "Ooooohhhhhhhh, sssshhhhhhiiiiii..."
At that point, I was certain I was going to jail. No way was he going to buy my lame-but-true story. Immediately, my mind started racing: Who could I call to bail me out? Would I lose my job? Would I be in the paper? On tv? Would I need to challenge the biggest, baddest dude in the jail to a fight? I don't know how to make a shank OR toilet wine!
Luckily, right after that things settled down. Here's an account of what happened next from
Then Holder told James Johnson of Tampa to stand. Johnson had come to court with an attorney.
"I don't have a good excuse," Johnson said. "I forgot."
"At least you're honest enough to admit it," Holder said.
Holder asked how many of the failed jurors had forgotten to appear Oct. 3. Many raised their hands.
"I understand," said Holder, a judge for 17 years.
Nearly 400 jurors hadn't shown up Oct. 3, but many called with legitimate excuses and weren't required to come to court today.
Holder told the others that courts work to ensure people's rights are protected. Courts work to protect the community, he said.
People fight and die every day defending Constitutional freedom, he said.
"We rely upon you men and women to come into court for a brief period of time," he said. "We try to be efficient with respect to your time … This is your courthouse. You built it with your tax dollars."
Though some trials can last for weeks, Holder said he recently tried two jury trials in one week.
"We've become a McDonald's world," he said. "We want it our way.
"But folks, this country asks very little of you. The state asks very little of you. Vote and serve on juries."
Holder said he would like to improve the process for jury management. He wants the court system to send a response back letting people know when they are, in fact, excused from duty.
One juror told the judge she had changed her name and the court system had mailed her jury summons to the incorrect address.
Holder ordered those with identification with the wrong address on it to alert the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Another juror asked Holder if juror names come from voting records or driving records. He told her it hasn't been voting records for years; those rules were changed years ago to driving records so juries aren't comprised of "all elderly white folks."
Toward the end of his speech, Holder told the failed jurors that their punishment had been to come to court and listen to him.
He asked them if they wanted to go to jail.
They said no.
Asking if they wanted to reconsider, he said, "I did check. The menu includes bologna sandwiches and cheese."
Holder asked how many of the jurors would volunteer to serve on juries again.
They all raised their hands.
"I guarantee you you will be summoned," he said.
I guarantee you I will be checking my mail three times a day between now and then.

1 comment:

Ruprecht said...

Judge Holder for President.

Who's with me ... ?!?